A History of the County of Suffolk: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1975.
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40. THE AUSTIN FRIARS OF CLARE
Richard de Clare, earl of Gloucester, was the first to introduce the Friars Heremites of St. Austin to this country, and it is generally assumed that the first establishment of the Austin Friars was at Clare, and that they were brought here in the year 1248. (fn. 1)
The Austin Friars, like the rest of the mendicant orders, were not permitted by their rules to hold other property save the site of their house; but in this instance the rule was interpreted in a somewhat liberal sense. Houses of friars, owing to their freedom from the cares of property, appear to have seldom possessed anything of the nature of a chartulary; but in the case of Clare there is a fairly long chartulary extant, containing transcripts of nearly two hundred separate deeds. (fn. 2) The high position of the founder and his posterity, coupled with the fact that Clare was the parent house of the order in England, placed this friary in a somewhat exceptional position, particularly as Clare was a favourite residence for royalty in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The majority of the numerous grants in the chartulary were for quite small plots of meadow land, or of adjoining small lots of buildings, which were added to the site for enlargement, and would have been lawful for any friary. Other charters are mere evidences of the title to small properties on the part of benefactors. Others again are the recital of indulgences and various privileges, or the record of particular events. But a few of them are undoubtedly in direct antagonism to the usual mendicant rule, and involve grants that would not have been accepted save by the consent of the provincial and of the general chapter of the province. Thus in 1349, John, prior of this house, accepted the gift of the manor house of Bourehall from Michael de Bures. (fn. 3)
The most noteworthy record of abnormal gifts is the first entry of the chartulary, headed Carta mortificationis, which recites the licence of Edward III, in 1364, for the alienation in mortmain, to the prior and brothers of the Austin House at Clare, of Ashen and Belchamp St. Paul, for their benefit and for the enlargement of their manse. (fn. 4)
Many of the small grants of adjoining property were from Maud, countess of Gloucester and Hereford, for the repose of the soul of the founder, her husband, who died in 1262.
In 1278 William bishop of Norwich granted a licence for any bishop of the Catholic Church to consecrate the cemetery round the friars' church. (fn. 5) In the following year Anianus, bishop of Bangor, when on a visit to Clare, granted a forty days' indulgence from enjoined penance to penitents contributing to the enclosure of the cemetery, or the construction and repair of the buildings of the priory. In the same year William archbishop of Edessa granted a like indulgence. (fn. 6) The bishop of Bangor also granted an indulgence, at the same time, for all who should say an Our Father and a Hail Mary there for the repose of the soul of Richard de Christeshale, whose body was buried in the friary church. (fn. 7)
On 10 May, 1305, died Joan of Acre, and was buried in the conventual church of the friars of Clare, in the presence of Edward II and most of the nobility of England. Joan was the second daughter of Edward I and Queen Eleanor, and took her name from the eastern town where she was born in the first year of her father's reign, when he was fighting the Saracens. She was married at the age of eighteen to Gilbert, earl of Clare and Gloucester, grandson of the founder of the priory, to which she was a benefactor, building the chapel of St. Vincent as an adjunct to the conventual church. She outlived the earl, and took for her second husband, Ralph Mortimer. Her daughter Elizabeth, by her first husband, who became the wife of Sir John de Burgh, built a new chapter-house, dormitory, and refectory for the friars, about 1310-14. Ralph, bishop of London, in 1307, granted a forty days' indulgence to all penitents saying here an Our Father and a Hail Mary for the soul of Joan of Acre. (fn. 8) Thomas, bishop of Worcester, when at Clare in the first year of his consecration (1318), granted a like indulgence; (fn. 9) and so also did Stephen bishop of London in 1319, (fn. 10) Benedict, bishop of 'Cardic,' in 1338, (fn. 11) and John, bishop of Llandaff, in 1347. (fn. 12)
In 1324 Bishop Rowland, formerly archbishop of Ordmoc, granted an indulgence to all penitents contributing to the fabric and ornaments of the church. (fn. 13) Benedict, bishop of Cardic and suffragan and commissary for the Bishop of Norwich, granted in 1338, forty days' indulgence to penitents visiting this church and contributing to the fabric fund on the solemn dedication day. (fn. 14) The same bishop in 1340 granted a like indulgence to those saying an Our Father or a Hail Mary for the soul of Brother John of St. Edmunds, D.D., of good memory, whose body was buried in this church. (fn. 15)
Prior Robert of this house, on 3 August, 1361, formally assigned in the chapter-house to Brother John Bachelor, for use at the altar in the newly-built chapel of the Annunciation, a great missal, a silver chalice weighing twentyseven shillings with a silver spoon weighing six pennies, a green velvet chasuble and set of vestments with gold orphreys and apparels, various cushions, a green carpet four ells long, two necklaces set with precious stones and a silver necklace, nine gold rings, a small chest containing four silk veils, &c. (fn. 16)
Edward Mortimer, son of Joan of Acre by her second husband, was buried in this church by the side of his mother. Further celebrity was given to the friars' church by the burial, before the high altar, after long delay, of the body of Lionel, duke of Clarence and earl of Ulster, son of Edward III. He died at Alba Pompeia, Piedmont, in 1368, and was first buried at Pavia. Eventually the body was exhumed and re-interred in this chancel. The sum of ten marks was paid to the prior and brethren, in the chapter-house, on 12 September, 1377, for their share in the funeral expenses. (fn. 17)
In 1373, a dispute that had arisen between the Austin Friars of Clare and of Orford, as to the seeking alms in the Isle of Mersea and other places, was settled at the provincial chapter held in August at Newcastle-on-Tyne; the upper gate of Colchester was to be a bound between the two houses. (fn. 18) A similar difference between the Austin Friars of Clare and Thetford was settled in 1388, when a list of the parishes where they might severally visit and seek for alms was drawn up. (fn. 19)
On St. Agatha's Day (5 February), 1380, William, bishop of Pismon, suffragan of the bishop of Norwich, dedicated the new cemetery without the walls of the church, extending from the west gate to the footbridge to the castle, together with the re-built cloister and chapter-house. (fn. 20) William, bishop of Norwich in 1381, granted twenty days' indulgence from enjoined penance to those contributing to the fabric. (fn. 21)
Robert, bishop of London, in a communication to the prior of the Austins of Clare, withdrew the excommunication of Sir Thomas Mortimer, knt., who with his assistants had dragged out from the friary church one John de Quinton, who had escaped there for a certain theft, thus violating sanctuary; provided that Sir Thomas, on the first Sunday in Lent, after evensong, came to the church bareheaded and barefooted, carrying a taper, and presented both the taper and a silk cloth valued at £3, at the altar. (fn. 22)
Weever printed in 1631 a curious rhymed descent of the lords of Clare, in both Latin and English, from a roll which was then in the possession of his friend the Windsor herald. (fn. 23) A drawing at the head of the roll shows a table tomb, on the one side an Austin friar and on the other a civilian, engaged in conversation. The heading to this rhymed descent is:—
This Dialogue betwix a Secular as asking, and a Frere answerying at the grave of Dame Johan of Acres shewith a lyneal descent of the lordis of the honoure of Clare, fro the tyme of the fundation of the Freeris in the same honoure, the yere of our Lord MCCXLVIII unto the first day of May the year MCCCLVI.
A MS. of Robert Aske's, temp. Henry VIII, gives:
The names of the nobles buried in the Frere Augustyn's of Clare. Sir Richard Erle of Clare; Lionell Duke of Clarence; Dame Joan of Acres; Sir Edmond Montbermer, son of the said Joane; John Weyburgh; Dame Alice Spencer; Willm. Goldryche; Sir John Beauchamp, knight; John Newbury, esquire; Willm. Capel and Elianor his wyfe; Kempe, esquire; Robert Butterwyke, Esquire; the Lady Margarete Scrope, daughter of Westmoreland; Joan Candyssle, daughter of Clofton; Dame Alianor Wynkeferry, Sir Edmund, last of the Mortimers, Erle of Marche, Sir Thomas Gily and his furste wyfe; Lucy, wife of Walter Clofton; Sir Thomas Clofton and Ada his wyfe. (fn. 24)
There is but little information with respect to these friars during the fifteenth century. The details as to their suppression in 1538 were in the hands of Richard Ingworth, then suffragan bishop of Dover. Writing to Cromwell on 29 November of that year, Ingworth said that he had received at Clare the Lord Privy Seal's letter instructing him to deliver that house and its 'implements' to Richard Frende, which had been done. The implements did not suffice to pay the debts and at the same time save the lead and plate for the king. The jewels were pledged for £33 2s. 6d. and he had redeemed them for the king with other money. He had left the house and its contents in Frende's custody under indenture. The lands besides the orchards were thirty-eight acres, only worth at clear annual value 48s. 10½d. There were fifteen or sixteen fother of lead (on the church), and the house, which was tiled, was in much decay. (fn. 25)
In August, 1539, Richard Frende obtained grant in fee from the crown of the site, soil, circuit, and precinct of the late priory of Austin Friars of Clare, which lay in the parishes of Clare, Ashen, and Belchamp St. Pauls (of the annual value of £3), to hold at a rent of 2d. a year, in as full a manner as John Halybud, the late prior, and the brethren thereof held the same. (fn. 26)
Priors of the Austin Friars of Clare
Adam de la Hyde, occurs 1299 (fn. 27)
John, occurs 1349 (fn. 28)
Robert, occurs 1361, &c. (fn. 29)
John Halybud, occurs 1538 (fn. 30)